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The Bitter Pill of Aging

Two dollars and forty-nine cents. That’s all my most recent depression cost me. Lately, I’ve been down. The reason? I’m starting to feel old–I mean FEEL it.

Ever since I turned forty, my stance has been, “I love getting older. It gives me more of a perspective. More wisdom.” But now that I’m forty-four, I’m not so sure.

I dodged feeling sad last year when my eye sight changed. Maybe because they now call them “progressives” instead of “bifocals“, and technology has erased any trace of a line within the lens, my shift in eye sight seemed like just the latest change to my prescription.

And despite the fact that my now-favorite co-worker Bev called me a baby on my recent birthday, I feel I can’t hide from this aging thing any longer.

And that’s why I ended up buying this:

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I only take one prescribed pill a day, but I also take some vitamins and supplements, like fish oil to fight high cholesterol. And sometimes I’d forget to take my medicine, and a few times I took it twice. Other times, I would mess up and mistake a vitamin for my prescription… I was careless and clueless.  I’ve needed this for about five years now. I knew it would help me avoid any mix-ups. But I put it off. Getting a pill dispenser meant I was old. O-L-D!

Yet, the reminders just kept coming.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some younger teachers at work, both in their twenties, and I started to say, “Just wait until your middle-aged like me.” And I had a mini-panic attack. As the words were about to roll off of my tongue, I realized that I had never actually called myself “middle-aged”. My lips became stuck and I  actually stuttered when I started to say mmmmmiddle-aged. Awkward.

Another day, while food shopping, I had to crouch down to get a box of crackers on the bottom shelf. My left knee locked and pain seemed to cement my leg in this position. I could not stand up. I could not straighten my leg. “This is it,” I thought, “I will now have to live in aisle five for the rest of my life.” Luckily, the hurt subsided. But since then, I avoid any crouching tiger positions–although there’s no avoiding aisle five.

Then, I decided to grow a beard for Movember to promote men’s prostate health–and it came in mostly white! One of my students even called me Santa Claus. “I think you mean Santa’s younger, skinnier brother,” I replied.  I wanted to shave it off right away. Damn you beard-for-a-good-cause.

And last week, I had my first migraine. I used to be one of those people who could say, “I don’t get migraines.” Oh, yeah, old man, well now you do. A friend told me that her doctor said that migraines can come on during shifts in one’s life cycle. “And, you know, maybe you’re getting them now because…” Pause. “Because I’m mmmmmiddle-age!” I yell back at her. “Well, maybe,” she says softly.

Then there are the boys. My sons are getting so big. Too big. I know they’ll be taller than me by middle school, and lately they walk around the house like they are auditioning for the role of sullen teenager on next year’s answer to Modern Family. They are content to play on their own. They watch TV and wrestle. I’m more of the guy who brings them Chex Mix or announces when dinner will be. My babies are now young boys–nine and seven.

Recently, several friends have announced that they are expecting. Great news. Yet, soon after learning it, I found myself sad. I’m done having babies. I no longer spend time in the rocker dozing with a drooling child snug in my neck. Everyone uses a toilet successfully (for the most part). Nothing in my house says “Fisher Price“. I am barely able to carry the boys in my arms–not that either of them begs to be lifted. It’s going too fast!!

I knew it was bad, when last week I actually toyed with the idea of having another child. I have adamantly held firm to the idea that two kids is plenty for me. Being one of seven, I like the balance and order that two children (seemingly) affords. Pam and I have always talked about adoption, though, even before we had the boys.  All week, I daydreamed about having a baby in the house. I mused about having a girl this time, and furnishing the now-guest-bedroom with borrowed items from friends and neighbors.

But then I did the numbers. Our youngest is seven, we’re forty-four, I haven’t had to get up at 2 a.m. for a feeding in 5 years. And I would be sixty-two at little Charlotte‘s senior year Back to School night. I’m already tired–now Lottie was beginning to exhaust me.  In the end, reality won over fantasy. Yet, one thing became clear. One of the reasons I’ve been feeling old lately is because it seems as if my kids don’t need me like they used to. They are more independent and I’m a little lonely. Sure, I’m their chauffeur, their human calculator at homework time, and number one fan at Saturday soccer, but it’s not the same as cradling someone you love in your arms, or holding someone’s hand just because, or singing them to sleep.

The other night, when I was being drill sergeant in the bathroom about brushing teeth, the boys and I were thinking of words that rhyme with “brush”. I said, “hush”. Then, I began to sing Hush little baby don’t say a word, papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird...  Hayden looked at me wonderingly. “I used to sing that song to you when you were a baby,” I said. He nodded, toothpaste foaming in his mouth. A few moments later, when his older brother had left the bathroom, he tugged my arm and whispered, “Could you sing that song to me tonight in my bed?” “I sure can,” I whispered back.

And that’s exactly what I did. I curled in next to him and sang him that song, then a few others from my repertoire from his younger days: “Molly Malone“, “Feed the Birds“, and “Shenandoah”. I think he was asleep after two songs, but I didn’t care. I wanted to linger. Then, I crept out of his room and down the stairs. In the kitchen, I went to the cabinet and opened the W on my pillbox. More certain about things than I’d been in weeks.

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Dear Santa, I’m sorry but I had to peek…

This past week I was cleaning my sons’ rooms and I discovered this in one of their drawers:

photo (10)As soon as I saw it, I knew it was my Christmas present from the boys. At first I was going to leave it alone, but curiosity got the best of me. I reached in the drawer and peered into the paper envelope. This is what I saw: 
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I could not believe my eyes. Here was a candy cane and a dollar from their allowance. As I looked at this gift, my heart melted. That dollar may as well have been a thousand. It is honestly the best present I think I’ve ever (almost) received. This gift is such a gesture.

So often, I worry that my two boys are being spoiled by all that our consumer-crazed society throws at them. The daily chorus of “I want…” echoes through our house. And yet, this kindness speaks volumes. I love that my sons gave me (and my wife–her envelopes are under mine) money from their own bank. They quietly went about making these cards, and stuffing them with what they had. Moreover, I love that they think a dollar is a lot. For me, that dollar is priceless.

Now, I have to act surprised when they give me the cards. I thought of different ways I could spend the money so they know how much I appreciate it. I contemplated buying a lottery ticket or two, but then I envisioned my sons at Gambler‘s Anonymous years from now–together– saying they first fell in love with gambling when their dad took them to buy a lottery ticket with their money! I think I will save these bills, put them away in a book or my own drawer, to always remind me of the beauty that can be found in the smallest of gestures. This Christmas, in our house at least, a dollar will certainly go a very long way.

Parks Awreck Frustration

I was very excited to be a dad today. My boys and I had off from school for a religious holiday (Yom Kippur). I had the day all planned out: clothes shopping for the new school year, McDonald’s, and an awesome park. Now that the day is over, I cannot believe I go into these experiences expecting to enjoy them, but I do. In my mind, when planning out a day like today, I envision us laughing as the boys try on some funny hats in the clothes store, a nice, cheery booth at Mickey Ds,  and a playful afternoon at a beautiful park. Honestly, what the hell is wrong with me? In the past few years, I am starting to discover “The Charlie Brown Complex”. Remember how Charlie Brown used to let Lucy hold the football for him every time, even though she would pull it away from him EVERY TIME? That’s the way I feel about my expectations versus the reality. Each time I fall flat on my ass (metaphorically) I just shake my head and think, “and why did I expect it to be any different?” Here is a run-down of our day:

At breakfast, I tell the boys the plan: clothes shopping, McDonald’s, and Castle Park–this awesome park we have only been to one other time about 45 minutes away. Hayden announces the toy to expect from McDonald’s. It’s a tie-in to the new movie coming out Friday: Hotel Transylvania. I wonder how he knows this.

“Well, boys. Today is about getting new clothes for school. And the reward is McDonald’s and Castle Park, so don’t ask for any toys or treats while we are shopping, okay?”

“Okay”, they mumble.

“Besides, they put all that stuff in stores just to distract kids, anyway,” I say, not even sure what the hell I mean.

“And annoy their parents,” Owen says innocently.

You got that right!

I tell the boys to play downstairs while I clean. We are leaving in a half hour. It is 9 o’clock. I love how I just make up a random departure time and never stick to it. I start to clean.

9:15: The boys try to sneak their scooters into the basement from outside. “No way!” I say. They proceed to the door from the garage. “Please?” “Guys, you’ll wreck the walls.” “PLEASE?” “Okay, just be careful. Plus we’re leaving in five minutes.”

9:30: I throw clothes down to them in the basement. “Put these on, we’re leaving in five minutes.” Then I run the vacuum.

9:45: “Come up and brush your teeth. We’re leaving in five minutes.” Then I go up stairs to get dressed.

10:00: “Alright, boys, go to the car. We’re leaving.” Surprisingly, they do so rather quickly.

10:15: I get to the car. “Here, eat these bananas. And I brought you some waters.” They are playing DS( a video game) in the back seat, oblivious. “I’ll be right out .”

10:30: I run around the house grabbing my phone, getting sunscreen…then back to the car. “Okay, we’re all set.” And I pull out of the driveway (finally).

Our first stop is to the mall. We need to park pretty far away. “When are we getting McDonald’s?” “Can we eat it there?” “You need to be good, and we’ll get McDonald’s.” Then I proceed to alternate between saying “No running” and “Stay with me” about a thousand times.

Clothes shopping is a nightmare–a hellish nightmare! I hate shopping for myself, let alone two growing boys who can barely get dressed once a day, not to mention having to try things on. Within two minutes, Hayden is hiding inside the racks of clothes. “Get out of there!” I say in my scary grandpa teeth-gritting whisper. Miracle–he listens. And as he barrels out, he knocks down half the rack of clothes. “Pick these up, now,” I say, grabbing his arm. Already, I’m a psycho. I have no patience and we’ve been in the mall five minutes. I decide we can go to one other store here–maybe two. We go to the dressing room with some clothes for Owen. The store is “under construction”. The dressing room is a curtain in the back–there is one for all customers. Owen is acting funny in the dressing room. “How do those pants fit?” “They feel funny cause I’m not wearing underpants.” “Owen!” “What?” “You need to wear underpants!” “Sorry.” I proceed to let him try on a few more pairs. My apologies to future shoppers.

The dressing room now has a line, so I shield Hayden in a quiet part of the store and tell him to try on a few pairs of pants behind a rack of clothes–no one is any wiser–and he is wearing underpants, so I don’t feel I’m THAT bad of a father.  We buy a bunch of clothes here, and then make it to two more stores. The boys chase each other around every inch of the mall. They get reprimanded twice–“Don’t touch the display, please.” “Don’t climb on that.” I am keeping my distance, but smile when I hear these admonitions. Such a good dad.

On the way to the car, Hayden runs through the parking lot. “Stop, Hayden.” He continues. “STOP.” He ignores me. I give him warnings and he ends up losing his allowance (money for good behavior–a dollar a day). Now, of course, he stops, mad that he lost his money, and refuses to move. “Do you want to lose McDonald’s now?” He reluctantly follows. I rant in the car…”Could’ve been hit…my job to keep you safe…why can’t you…” He refuses to buckle his seat belt. I threaten again. “Well, you’re weird!” he screams. I swat at his leg from the front seat. “Don’t call me names.” What a fun outing.

The boys fall into a video game coma as I make our way to McDonald’s. I would love to point out the fall leaves or the rolling farms, but I welcome the solitude in the front.  McDonald’s is the same as always–sticky booths, annoying ketchup packets, and pushy dads who insist both boys get the same toy when ordering Happy Meals–“It’s just better that way,” one whispers to the counter lady.

Then it’s off to Castle Park. This park is a destination for many in the surrounding counties. It has beautiful playing fields, and an amazing playground–sectioned off for various age groups that everyone seems to ignore–with a towering castle structure in the center. We race to the entrance. It is swarming with families. Kids of all ages squeal around the structure. Once again, I’m reminded of my Charlie Brown Complex. God, this is a nightmare, I think. I spend the next hour and a half watching the boys as the fly from one attraction to the next. With each flight of steps, rung of the monkey bars, or boost on a swing, I imagine all the ways they could be hurt here. My mind ponders, How do more kids not die on playgrounds? Preteen boys, taller than I, blow past me in a game of cops and robbers. I envision them plowing into my boys as the race to the top of the castle–a mere three stories high.

A playground like this is a parent’s biggest fear. Lots of kids screaming “Mommy” and “Daddy” and every adult swearing it is their child calling. The chaos overwhelms. The frenzied noise of running children could just as easily be viewed as sounds of torture. Do they really think this is fun? I wonder. The castle looms before me, and this time the call of “Dad” is meant for me, as Hayden waves from behind a fenced-in window at the top of the tower. He looks like something out of a VC Andrews’ novel. “I’m going down the slide. Watch, okay?”  Godspeed, little buddy.

“Dad, can you push us on the swings?” “Sure.” As I take turns pushing them, Owen becomes tired and slows down. He looks at me and asks, “What are we going to do today?” Are you f***ing kidding me? I just dropped a few bills on clothes for you, then McDonald’s, and now the best park in the tri-state area, I think. “This is it,” I say in that high pitched annoyed voice.  Hayden pipes in, “Why didn’t we go to the other castle park–the one that’s closer to our house?” “Because this one is so much bigger–a special treat,” I say with a strained smile. Ingrates.

Next, we get in line for The Tire. Not the tire swing, but a tire that is suspended from a beam, where several kids sit in, and spin around like crazy. A girl of about twelve seems to have appointed herself in charge. She’s wearing Ugg boots and cut off jeans.  She looks as if she might grow up to be a barker at a carnival. The goal of this ride seems to be to invoke vomiting. As we wait for our turn to be called, the kid in front of us laments, “I had to come here today with my grandma, but I wish I was home playing video games.” Ingrate.

“Next two in line,” barker girl commands. I hand them over to her. “Dad, we want you to push us,” Owen says. I ask the young girl if that’s okay, forgetting that I’m the adult in charge. “Yeah,” she says, sizing me up for the job, “we can both do it.” Permission granted. Relieved looks from the boys.

On the way out of the park, we visit our third public restroom of the day, McDonald’s being the nastiest by far.  That pink soap they use–throughout the county as far as I can tell– smells like squirrel piss.  As we approach the car, the ice cream truck circles the parking lot AGAIN, preying on hot, tired families. “Can we get ice cream, Dad?” “We just had McDonald’s. We’ll get something at home.”  I feel like a jerk for saying no, but since there’s no fuss, I keep walking to the car.

During the ride home, I reflect on how annoying a lot of this day turned out to be. I try to engage the boys somewhat in an effort to get them out of the video screens. “Look at all those cows, guys.” Heads pop up for a millisecond, “Cool.” This ends up being the most relaxing part of the day. The drive is scenic, the boys content, and I’m relieved that no one had to go to the hospital from a park injury. I wish I could be better at this stuff–that I had more patience and could just enjoy these small moments. Then I think of the hug Hayden gave me for no reason when he met me at the other end of the slide. Then I think of my freak out on him in the car, and wonder if he’ll write a blog about me someday:)

We get home, and everyone hops out of the car. The boys run over to play with the guys next door. I go in the house to see about dinner. Pam calls on her way home from work. “How was your day?” she asks.